Admitted in 1836 as the 25th state to enter the country, Arkansas has seen its fair share of historical events in its journey from territory to statehood. The state is commemorating its 182-year history with a birthday celebration Friday.
The Old Statehouse Museum in Little Rock recognized the birthday anniversary with a kickoff event last Saturday. The museum is partnering with several local businesses throughout the week who will be donating a portion of their proceeds to museum funds leading up to Friday.
State Capitol Historian David Ware said the state’s history has been characterized by rapid change since its inception.
“Changes [are] really what defines life in Arkansas. We hold onto our cultural heritage, our history, and of course, the great patrimony that is our environment here,” Ware said. “But at the same time, change is inevitable, and it’s not necessarily bad.”
The state has roots in the Mississippian Period where profound changes took place across many native American societies, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
European explorers made first contact in the area now known as Arkansas in the 1540s, when Hernando de Soto’s expedition first crossed the Mississippi River. The first European settlement in the state, Arkansas Post, was not established until 140 years later.
Ware said changes in Arkansas’s population demographics did not really start to occur until after it became a state.
“Of course, the growth of the Euro-American and the African-American population, the diminution of the Native American population,” Ware said were among the changes in Arkansas's demographics that came after statehood. “the gradual conversion of open land into farmed land, conversion of forests, and especially during the last few decades, attempts on the part of Arkansans in all parts of the state to conserve the natural and cultural heritage of this state. Those are a few of the changes.”
While Ware is marking the state's 182-year anniversary, he points ahead to the state’s bicentennial as a point of pride for all Arkansans.
“A lot of to-do is made on hundredth anniversaries, hundred-and-fiftieth,” Ware said. “Come 2036, there will be dancing in the streets, I’m sure.”